My roots are in Manila — that’s above Bali and
to the right of Bangkok. You might know the area.
My grandmother was a feisty Tagala.
Five hundred years after the fact—
and to a troop of kids wearing jeans—
she still told of her great grandfather’s great
grandfather who, wearing the scarlet cloth around
his gold-studded, gloriously brown skin,
threw a spear into a pale, young conquistador,
killing him. So I will never say ‘What do you mean?’—
taking offense— when you ask me
‘No, I mean, where are you really from?’
as if I were a charming chanterelle,
to the shame of my grandmother who lived
through the fall of Corregidor, and slept
in a cave during the war.
Yes, my English is “surprisingly good”.
Our babies train for TOEFL straight
from the womb, so they can fly away
and feed the motherland.
A is for the Apple that never grew in our yard.
B is for Baby blue-eyed.
For parties, I was taught a trick:
how to read Jane running after Dick.
‘Look Jane look.’ I looked at Jane,
mesmerised by her blonde curls.
Everything in her life looked golden.
No, I am not a maid nor a nurse.
But I know a mother who sings
at night to a foreign child,
while her own lie milkless,
sleepless at home. She was
a schoolteacher, a city scholar,
still she faced a choice: dollar or peso.
The exchange rate was always
high for heroes. But through
the veins of our women
flow the blood of Tandang Sora.
We do what we have to do, we soar.
Yes, families live under bridges,
and children run naked
begging for change—
the coin, not the concept—
for they are too young to know.
But no, we are not all boondocks and beggars.
There are proper houses with garages
and swimming pools and gates.
There are high-rises and trains.
And while land is measured by hectares
for rice and tobacco and sugar cane,
in the cities are malls larger than the Vatican,
and everyone who has money
carries a Vuitton and eats Italian.
Yes, our poor always die poor
and our rich are so eternally.
But we love kissing the Archbishop’s ring,
and we walk the entire length
of the church on our knees
for some— some— fortunes can swing.
A President can turn prisoner mid-term.
An orphan can grow into tycoon,
all of a sudden like a bonsai
breaking out into a tree.
All the better if he already has
a Chinese name. It reads better
across the ocean.
Yes, I am Asian.
(No, I am not Latina. It is after all in Asia.)
(No, I am not good at math.)
People in a half-part of Turkey are Asians
as well. Even Russians are Asians.
You see, they lumped us all together
when white exploration was young,
and sailors were oppressed
by the idea of the foreign.
So if you’d like to be a better
cartographer than your father—
and more accurately chart
the trenches of my heart,
plot my intimate inland tales,
follow the river of my blood,
trace out the Sierra Cordillera
from where I carved my face—
You should ask me questions.
You should ask.
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